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Espn.com New york

Posted Wednesday, November 24, 2010 by ESPN.com/New York
NEW YORK -- The celebration was, if anything, subdued.

The Archbishop Stepinac football team had just won the Catholic High School Football League’s AA title against Kellenberg, pushing its record to 11-0. Yet, the team couldn’t revel too much in its victory.

After all, in just five days after its Nov. 20 victory, it would have to defend its undefeated record in a non-conference game against its archrival, White Plains, on Thanksgiving morning.

“In the back of our heads we knew we had one more game to go,” senior Brian Brynes said. “If we win on Thanksgiving it will be a very big deal and we can celebrate as much as we want, because we achieved all the goals we set at the beginning of the season.”

Stepinac will look to have one final, unabashed celebration as it looks to become the first team in school history to finish undefeated when it travels to White Plains for its season finale Thursday at 10:30 a.m. The Crusaders (11-0) will try to avenge last year’s 21-14 loss to the Tigers (6-2).

“Everything is still on the line. We’re still undefeated, but if we lose that game, we’re going to feel bad for ourselves,” senior Jeff Clack said. “If we lose the game, the season won’t mean anything. We lost last year and we were disappointed.”

The other four CHSFL teams playing on Thanksgiving are all playing rivalry games with nothing at stake but bragging rights. For them, it’s a chance to play a game, talk some trash and give the alumni a chance to gather and reminisce.

It isn’t that easy for Stepinac.

Since their rivalry clash always comes in the final week of the season, this could turn their season into a bittersweet memory. Yes, the Crusaders will still own a trophy as AA champions and have an unblemished league mark, but a loss in their final game would sting like disturbing a hornet’s nest. It would leave the door open for thoughts of “what if?” to creep into a championship season.

The players, though, like the fact that White Plains is standing between their chance of being a team remembered as a perfect team in the annals of Stepinac football.

“I’d rather have it our last game because our seniors are hoping to leave White Plains Field with a victory over our big rivals,” quarterback Tyrell Goodman said. “We understand that everything is on the line and we’re playing our rivals, so we gotta bring 150 percent.”

Even though Stepinac won the AA title with its 41-6 victory over Kellenberg, the Crusaders are looking at this rivalry game as if it is another championship tilt. They’re quite happy that they brought home a league trophy, but this game might mean even more to them.

White Plains and Stepinac both are located in White Plains, N.Y. and within close proximity of each other. Most of the players are familiar with one another. The community comes out to support the teams, sometimes in the range of 5,000 to 6,000 people, according to Stepinac head coach Mike O’Donnell.

The Stepinac players have thought about beating White Plains since the first day of the season and it is always one of their season goals. In the past two seasons, the teams are tied at 1-1, meaning this game will determine whose senior class (most seniors do not play varsity football as freshman) will leave the winning edge.

“This game has tradition. We’ve been playing this game forever,” Clack said. “Both schools are pretty cool, we like each other, sometimes the kids talk trash, but it’s all about football love, nothing too extreme.”

And so one final game stands between Stepinac and history. A rivalry game on Thanksgiving that has players from both sides counting down the day until Thursday.

“We work all throughout the season to be undefeated and win the championship,” Byrnes said. “And to also beat White Plains.”

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